Interfaith Coalition Against Marriage Equality Harms Pastoral Care and Religious Liberty

The papal nuncio to Great Britain has called for an interfaith coalition to work against the establishment of marriage equality in England and Scotland.  Yet an American Jesuit scholar has recently warned that such alliances can cause great pastoral harm.  And a Scottish interfaith group warns that denying marriage equality infringes on religious liberty.


Archbishop Antonio Mennini

London’s Telegraph reported that Archbishop Antonio Mennini called not only for Christian denominations to work together to defeat marriage equality, but for other religions to work in coalition, too:

“In an address to Catholic bishops from England and Wales, he echoed the recent comments of Pope Benedict who said the Church faced ‘powerful political and cultural currents’ in favour of redefining marriage.

“His comments come after a series of high-level interventions by some Muslim and Jewish leaders last month after the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, launched a national consultation on how same-sex marriage might be introduced.”

Noting that Jewish and Muslim groups have spoken out against marriage equality in the U.K.,  Mennini said:

“I wonder if we shouldn’t ask for and look for more support among other Christian confessions and indeed, persons of other faiths. . . .

“It seems to me that, concerning the institution of marriage, and indeed the sanctity of human life, we have much in common with the position of the Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi and many of the more significant representatives of Islam.”

One of the top leaders of the Bishops of England and Wales supported Mennini’s proposal:

“Speaking in London yesterday the second most senior active Catholic cleric in England and Wales, Archbishop Peter Smith, of Southwark, said there had been no ‘formal’ contact with Jewish groups to form a united front on the subject of marriage.

“But he said: ‘We will work with anyone who agrees with us that to redefine marriage is not a good thing for society and will lead to more confusion.’ ”

John Coleman, SJ

In a separate and directly unrelated commentary which had preceded Mennini’s call,  American theologian John Coleman, SJ, had warned against the pastoral repercussions that that alliances with other denominations and faiths can cause.  Citing the example of the Proposition 8 campaign in California and the current constitutional amendment debate in Minnesota, Coleman pointed out that alliances and coalitions can lead bishops to ignore and violate the Catholic church’s teaching on the dignity of LGBT people. In a blog post entitled “Intemperate Episcopal Rhetoric and a Church of Honest Discourse” on America magazine’s “In All Things” blog, Coleman wrote:

“The church has said, often, that the church recognizes the full dignity of gays and lesbians and has a pastoral outreach to them. As such, when it joins other groups in a campaign against gay marriage, it does need to distance itself from the intemperate rhetoric fulminating from its electoral allies! Inasmuch as the church clearly and openly allies with other groups opposing gay marriage who use language which denigrates the dignity of gays and lesbians and does not repudiate such language, the church is also complicit, by association, in such disparagement of dignity.”

Coleman’s point is a reminder that overzealous political involvement can deter from the church’s mission.

In Scotland, a coalition of religious organizations has spoken out in favor of marriage equality in that country, using a religious liberty argument to support their position. The BBC reports that “Faith in Marriage,” a coalition of groups including liberal Christian denominations, liberal Jewish groups, and Buddhists (among others) says that not allowing marriage equality is

“an unacceptable infringement by the state on our freedom of religion and belief.”

In a letter the Scottish Parliament members, the “Faith in Marriage” coalition wrote:

“We respect the religious freedom of those bodies that currently do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, and we agree that there should be a mechanism in place to ensure that they do not have to. This is a position widely supported by equal marriage campaigners.

“We do, however, note with dismay that little mention has been made by politicians or the media of the rights of those religious and humanist bodies that do wish to conduct same-sex marriages.

“We are concerned that this debate is being framed by some as ‘LGBT people vs religion’, when in reality there are many LGBT people of faith and there is a great divergence of opinion on same-sex marriage amongst – and within – religious bodies.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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